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Shields and Brooks on Rand Paul Comments, Dangers of Centrism

May 21, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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Columnists Mark Shields and David Brooks sort through the top political stories of the week, including what Tuesday's telling primaries mean for the general election and the road ahead for financial reform.
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JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight: the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Mark, the financial reform legislation that the Senate passed, does that mean it’s now going to happen?

MARK SHIELDS: It does mean it’s going to happen. And I think the political story that really surprised — I — certainly me, was how much it got momentum it got, how tougher the legislation actually got on the Senate floor, and, in the final analysis, how little political muscle the financial community really had.

I mean, they spent a lot of money. They have a lot of influence in regulation and subcommittees. But, when it got out in the open in a fight, the — all the momentum was on the side of reform and regulation.

JIM LEHRER: You see the politics the same way, David?

DAVID BROOKS: Similar, though, you know, I wasn’t sure how really vicious the opposition was. They did hire a bunch of lobbyists, and they were all around town. But when you spoke to people on Wall Street, a lot of them said, ah, some things will change; some parts of the bill, we definitely do not like.

But there wasn’t a massive dislike, because they didn’t think it was that big deal, a lot of them did. They thought it may take some steps that will uncomfortable for them in some areas, but they didn’t see it fundamentally changing the nature of their business.

In fact, I spoke to some guys on Wall Street who said, you know, one of the things we have got to do is get this derivatives market aboveground, so we can all see it.

JIM LEHRER: The transparency.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

And one of the things they were afraid of, at least the two hedge fund managers I happened to speak to, was that parts of it — and Greg mentioned this earlier — are — will be pushed maybe further into the shadows. So, there will be still some gullies there, where you could get really some risky derivative deals that could be quite dangerous.

The other thing to be said is, there are a lot of regulatory regimes around the world looking at this. None of them did particularly well the last time around, just because it’s really hard to predict what is about to happen in the stock market. That’s why we have a stock market.

And so there was a great expectation that we still are in a risky situation. And, if the — if the bad things happen, whatever the politicians say, there will be big bailouts again.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, one of the — I think, intriguing to me anyway, Jim, was that, with all the talk about getting rid of government and Tea Parties and deregulation and everything else, there is nobody who can make the case that what happened in Wall Street and the crisis of 2008 occurred because of too little — too much regulation.

I mean, and so it wasn’t a question of bigger government or better government. There was a question of protecting people. And I think that’s where — and, finally, a Democratic Congress found an entity and an institution that is far less popular than they are. And that’s Wall Street.

Halfway through the debate on this legislation, it ceased to be financial regulation. It became Wall Street regulation. The president was almost a born-again populist, as he…

JIM LEHRER: And he was beating up on them again yesterday…

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. That’s right.

JIM LEHRER: … yes, about the lobbyists and all that.

The going of Dennis Blair as head of national intelligence…

DAVID BROOKS: Right.

JIM LEHRER: … David, how do you read that? What happened?

DAVID BROOKS: It’s — you know, it’s a stupid job. They…

JIM LEHRER: Stupid job?

DAVID BROOKS: They created a job, a layer of bureaucracy, a layer of decision, this director of national intelligence, who really has very little in the way of bureaucracy. Meanwhile, you have got the CIA and other agencies.

JIM LEHRER: He has no troops. He has no troops.

DAVID BROOKS: He has no troops.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: They got a lot of troops, actually, the CIA.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: And, so, when they get into a fight, well, guess who is going to win?

And there are some people saying, well, maybe the president should get behind the DNI director, and we have had a bunch of them over the — just over the last couple of years. Well, no president is going to go up against the CIA, for — on behalf of some agency that has no troops.

And so it’s a doomed institution. My view is, they should just take whoever is CIA director and appoint him also director of DNI, and, in that way, essentially eliminate the institution.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think of that?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, as always, it’s an intriguing and provocative idea. And…

JIM LEHRER: You mean Mr. Brooks’ idea?

MARK SHIELDS: Mr. Brooks’ idea.

MARK SHIELDS: No. I mean, Dennis — Dennis Blair was a victim, I think. I mean, I think he is an enormously talented man and — and a great patriot. And he is somebody who rose to the position of preeminence that he did in the Navy solely on ability. I mean, he’s not a schmoozer. He’s not somebody who moves very well…

JIM LEHRER: He is a tough guy.

MARK SHIELDS: He is a tough guy, and he’s not a guy who has touched all the right bases socially in that sense.

And I think that this is a job — David’s absolutely right — with an awful lot of responsibility and minimal authority. And you are right. When you get into a fight with the CIA, they have vast resources, great press relations, and enormous information resources that everybody is interested in.

And I think he got into a tough battle with Leon Panetta early on, which was a mistake. I mean, first of all, only the CIA, but Leon Panetta is a gifted, experienced former OMB director, former White House chief of staff, long-term member of Congress, House chairman.

You know, Leon Panetta knows, not simply where the bodies are, but where they are buried and who buried them. And I think it was tough. And the White House was graceless in its exit once again. I mean, I can’t understand why they did this. They…

JIM LEHRER: They didn’t give him any way out, did they?

MARK SHIELDS: No way out. And-a-half-an-hour before his meeting with the president, where his resignation was to be demanded, they released, leaked the fact that they had been interviewing for a couple of weeks his successors. I mean, that just is not — that’s not a way of inspiring loyalty.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I do agree with that. They — and this is not exactly the first time they have been unnecessarily tough on people.

Maybe they want to show some muscle, or maybe it is just, in the flow of things, things got confused and lost. But it is true that they have a record now of being unnecessarily tough.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: And maybe that’s just Chicago politics; I don’t know.

JIM LEHRER: OK.

Well, look, the — Tuesday’s primaries, let’s move to that. I’m sure both of you have a lot to say about those. First of all, you got a general — how do you read — there’s a lot has been said, what the people said in the Tuesday primaries. What did you hear them say?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, if I had a theme, it would be that the people are sick and tired of all this bipartisanship and cooperation that has been going on in Washington.

DAVID BROOKS: And they want to get rid of it, because a bunch of people like — whether you like Arlen Specter or not, he was sort of in the middle there, bipartisan, Blanche Lincoln sort of in the middle. Last week, we talked about Robert Bennett, sort of in the middle.

And they are either out or endangered. And, in each case, they have been replaced by somebody further on the edge. And, so, you know, the country is furious at all the cooperation and civility I see in Washington, and they are not going to have any of it.

JIM LEHRER: Now, there is an unusual…

MARK SHIELDS: It is. And that is provocative and — yes, I will address its worthwhile…

MARK SHIELDS: No, Mark Russell, I think, had an even better take. He said, the voters are so angry in 2010, that if Gandhi came back, he would be brandishing a pitchfork.

MARK SHIELDS: Saint Francis of Assisi would be in a duck blind with AK-47 shooting doves.

MARK SHIELDS: I mean, there is an anger out there. And I think we saw it. And it’s — and Peter Hart put it to me very well. He said, this is an…

JIM LEHRER: He’s a Democratic pollster, right.

MARK SHIELDS: Democratic pollster. He said, this is an I-before-E election, the old spelling trick. I said, what do you mean?

JIM LEHRER: What is that?

MARK SHIELDS: He said, this is — this — you want to be an insurgent, rather than establishment. And there was no better example of that than Pennsylvania. OK?

Here is Joe Sestak, two-term congressman, three-star admiral, three wars, taking on Arlen Specter, who is endorsed by the governor of Pennsylvania, the mayor of Philadelphia, the mayor of Pittsburgh, the president of United States, the entire — the vice president of the United States, the entire Democratic establishment and leadership, Senatorial Campaign Committee. And Joe Sestak…

JIM LEHRER: Out of here. He wins.

MARK SHIELDS: … he wins big.

JIM LEHRER: Yes. Yes.

What strikes you about the going of Arlen Specter?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, well, this is a frustration for me. For people in the center, Arlen Specter is symptomatic of a problem, which is that there is no centrist philosophy. You know, people in the center should be able to say, we have big budget deficits, out of control, and here’s our agenda.

JIM LEHRER: Mm-hmm.

DAVID BROOKS: And, yet, the center has not developed that. People who consider themselves moderates have not developed that philosophy. And, so, a lot of people who look like centrists and who seem basically centrist, like Arlen Specter, just seem like opportunists.

And, so, there is — there is no system there. And so, if you are an angry person, and you are angry at the way Washington is spending, you are angry at the way it is violating your values, well, your — your choices, if you want somebody tough and strong and who knows what they believe, your choices are pretty much on the extreme.

JIM LEHRER: You got to go to the left or the right.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. And that’s where voters are going.

JIM LEHRER: Yes. Yes.

How do you read — your reaction to the comments by Rand Paul, the guy who won the Republican senatorial primary in Kentucky? Is he in trouble?

DAVID BROOKS: I think he’s in trouble. He should be. The Republican Party is in a little panic about it. He questioned the legitimacy of the civil rights movement, and when you — the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

When you have got insurgents, when you have got outsiders, they come in, A, not knowing when to shut up, and, B, sometimes with weird ideas. And he comes in with a libertarian, a specific sort of libertarian pedigree. And he had some midnight ramble with Rachel Maddow on TV, and he threw out, you know, some philosophical argument about the Civil Rights Act.

And it is possible to have an intellectual argument which totally ignores reality and why we actually had a Civil Rights Act of 1964. And it was that sort of thing, sort of abstractly, maybe interesting, but ignorant of reality.

And, so, he rambled. And the interesting question for me is, are people going to take a look at this, and: So, he is a wild cannon, let’s — he’s got odd views, let’s get rid of this guy, or will they say, hey, I want a wild cannon, I’m so upset about the system, I am willing to tolerate somebody who says stupid things if he’s honest about everything?

And, so, it will be very interesting to see — for me to see how, politically, whether it hurts him or not.

MARK SHIELDS: I think Rand Paul, in the last 48 hours, since the election, has explained why Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, was supporting Trey Grayson, the secretary of state, whom Paul did defeat.

I mean, it has been nothing but a headache since he won. And there is a certain hubris: I can go on and joust with anybody and all of that.

But it is a very intriguing development, in two respects. First of all, the Tea Party has been a fascinating, intriguing movement all year, with — with rallies and everything else. But it hasn’t had a face or a voice. And this is somebody who has embraced the Tea Party.

JIM LEHRER: Rand Paul.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. And he’s become the face and the voice of the — until somebody else comes along. So, that is a little bit of a…

JIM LEHRER: Wouldn’t Sarah Palin qualify?

MARK SHIELDS: No, because Sarah Palin was the Republican — I mean, his whole existence is really through the Tea Party.

JIM LEHRER: Outside the party, yes.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

JIM LEHRER: That’s right.

MARK SHIELDS: And she — she was certainly a Republican standard-bearer.

I think that’s — I think that’s important, Jim. And I think the other thing about Rand Paul is, the libertarian instinct and impulse that he does represent is not going to be an easy harness with the religious right of the Republican Party, especially on issues of sexual conduct and so forth, where the libertarian impulse is that consenting adults can do, you know, anything that doesn’t do harm to either person, and the law just ought to butt out.

That has not been the platform of the Republicans.

JIM LEHRER: Finally, the Richard Blumenthal situation in Connecticut, his comments about — about Vietnam, a member of the United States Marine Reserve. Both Mark and I have a conflict of interests, because we are also former — we were both former Marines.

So, what do you think about it, David?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, my — my impression, speaking to Marines and former Marines, is that one doesn’t wander into this territory accidentally, that there are certain bright lines in one’s mind of whether one served in combat or not, and that you just don’t accidentally do it.

And, so, I do think what he — what he has done is dishonorable. But, again, I’m — I’m questioning what the political effect is. And I’m just not sure. People may have such low expectations of politicians. A lot of people unfamiliar with combat and unfamiliar with the military, which is a lot of voters these days…

JIM LEHRER: A majority, in fact.

DAVID BROOKS: “Yes, he exaggerated. So what? We all exaggerate.”

And it will be interesting to see if it strikes a chord.

MARK SHIELDS: David — David is right.

I mean, you and I came of age at a time when three out of four high school graduates, three out of four college graduates served in the military.

JIM LEHRER: You had no choice.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. It was a near-universal experience.

JIM LEHRER: That’s right.

MARK SHIELDS: And the baby boomers, of which Blumenthal is one, they were the ones who started game the system and use the things.

I mean, he served. He served honorably. I don’t know why that wasn’t enough for him, and why he had — why to expand it. Everybody who has ever worn or not worn the uniform, Jim, has, in the privacy of his own soul, the doubt: What would I be like in combat? Would I be courageous? Would I be cowardly? Would I — would I do what was right?

And you don’t say serving — serving — serving in Vietnam, and you don’t say — put yourself in a war zone, when that wasn’t the case. And, you know, I always say, when anybody says, “I served after Korea and before Vietnam,” because I don’t want anybody to think I was in combat. I wasn’t.

JIM LEHRER: Absolutely. I do exactly the same thing.

MARK SHIELDS: And that’s really — and I think it is a very serious problem